IntroductionThe plethora of similarities between the Yosef narratives and the Book of Esther have been noted by many exegetes.1 There is significant overlap between the general setting of the stories, the events that transpire, and the characters of the protagonists. Moreover, these content parallels are buttressed by numerous linguistic similarities, suggesting that the author of Megillat Esther was intentionally inviting the reader to compare the two sagas.
The table below charts many of the content similarities between the two narratives:
|Yosef and Esther|| |
|Yosef and Mordechai|| |
|The King|| |
|Yaakov's Family and Mordechai and Esther || |
Throughout the Book of Esther there are continuous allusions to the Yosef narrative. These range from short phrases to almost complete verses:
|סיפורי יוסף (בראשית ל"ז-נ')||מגילת אסתר (א'-י')|
|(לז:לד) וַיִּקְרַע יַעֲקֹב שִׂמְלֹתָיו וַיָּשֶׂם שַׂק בְּמָתְנָיו וַיִּתְאַבֵּל עַל בְּנוֹ יָמִים רַבִּים||(ד:א) וַיִּקְרַע מָרְדֳּכַי אֶת בְּגָדָיו וַיִּלְבַּשׁ שַׂק וָאֵפֶר וַיֵּצֵא בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדֹלָה וּמָרָה|
|(לט:ו) וַיְהִי יוֹסֵף יְפֵה תֹאַר וִיפֵה מַרְאֶה||(ב:ז) וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה|
|(לט:י) וַיְהִי כְּדַבְּרָהּ אֶל יוֹסֵף יוֹם יוֹם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ||(ג:ד) וַיְהִי כְּאָמְרָם אֵלָיו יוֹם וָיוֹם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם|
|(מ:ב) וַיִּקְצֹף פַּרְעֹה עַל שְׁנֵי סָרִיסָיו עַל שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים וְעַל שַׂר הָאוֹפִים||(ב:כא) בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם ... קָצַף בִּגְתָן וָתֶרֶשׁ שְׁנֵי סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף|
|(מ:כ) וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת אֶת פַּרְעֹה וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל עֲבָדָיו||(א:ג) בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלוֹשׁ לְמָלְכוֹ עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל שָׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו|
|(מא:לד-לה) וְיַפְקֵד פְּקִדִים עַל הָאָרֶץ... |
וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל אֹכֶל הַשָּׁנִים הַטֹּבוֹת
|(ב:ג) וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה|
|(מא:לז) וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה||(ב:ד) וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ|
|(מא:מב) וַיָּסַר פַּרְעֹה אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ מֵעַל יָדוֹ וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָהּ עַל יַד יוֹסֵף||(ג:י) וַיָּסַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ מֵעַל יָדוֹ וַיִּתְּנָהּ לְהָמָן בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא |
(ח:ב) וַיָּסַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱבִיר מֵהָמָן וַיִּתְּנָהּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי
|(מא:מב-מג) וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ בִּגְדֵי שֵׁשׁ ... וַיַּרְכֵּב אֹתוֹ בְּמִרְכֶּבֶת הַמִּשְׁנֶה אֲשֶׁר לוֹ וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְפָנָיו אַבְרֵךְ...||(ו:ח-ט) יָבִיאוּ לְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת... וְהִרְכִּיבֻהוּ עַל הַסּוּס בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר וְקָרְאוּ לְפָנָיו כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ|
|(מג:יד) וַאֲנִי כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁכֹלְתִּי שָׁכָלְתִּי||(ד:טז) וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי אָבָדְתִּי|
|(מד:לד) כִּי אֵיךְ אֶעֱלֶה אֶל אָבִי... פֶּן אֶרְאֶה בָרָע אֲשֶׁר יִמְצָא אֶת אָבִי||(ח:ו) כִּי אֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי בָּרָעָה אֲשֶׁר יִמְצָא אֶת עַמִּי|
|(נ:ג) כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי הַחֲנֻטִים||(ב:יא) כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי מְרוּקֵיהֶן|
|Yosef Stories (Bereshit 37 – 50)||Megillat Esther (1 – 10)|
- Distinctive phrases – About half of the above parallels are unique to these two stories. Thus, the phrases "וַיְהִי כְּאָמְרָם/ כְּדַבְּרָהּ... יוֹם יוֹם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ", "וְיַפְקֵד פְּקִידִים... וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל", "וַיָּסַר... אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ מֵעַל יָדוֹ וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָהּ", "פֶּן אֶרְאֶה בָרָע אֲשֶׁר יִמְצָא אֶת", and "כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי"5 appear only in these two narratives. Several of the other parallels are also somewhat unique, appearing only in a small number of other places in Tanakh.6
- Degree of similarity – The parallels have a high degree of similarity. Several phrases are totally identical,7 while in others the choice of word is the same though the form might differ due to number, tense, or gender.8
- Function of the parallels – Many of the linguistic parallels serve to support the content parallels, reinforcing both the similar plot line and messages of both stories.
- The beauty of Yosef and Esther is what leads both into a position where they are desired by those more powerful than them.
- The "daily refusal" of both Yosef and Mordechai (against the sexual advance of Mrs. Potiphar and Haman's demand to bow down) highlights how both stand up against figures of authority, despite the inherent dangers.
- In both narratives, the giving of a ring symbolizes a transfer of power and marks the rise to second in command.
- The anger at/of the eunuchs serves as a turning point in both stories, in one case leading to Yosef's emergence from prison and in the other to Mordechai's saving of Achashverosh's life.
- Esther's lament "כִּי אֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי בָּרָעָה אֲשֶׁר יִמְצָא אֶת עַמִּי" echoes the anguish of Yehuda's similar cry. In both stories, a character who had previously not expressed strong solidarity with their brethren,9 is in the end moved to plea before the ruler for their salvation.10
- Character parallels – The characters in the two stories are not consistently paired with one specific figure in the parallel story. Thus, Yosef shares traits and actions with both Esther and Mordechai. Esther echoes not only Yosef, but Yaakov and Yehuda as well, and although Mordechai mainly recalls Yosef, he is also paralleled to Yaakov. Only Paroh and Achashverosh are matched only to each other.
- Content – Some of the overall plot parallels are not unique to these stories, but are also shared by the Daniel narratives.11 In all three, a Jew, exceptional in his/her beauty, rises to power in exile, and it is the king's troubled sleep which provides the stimulus through which they find favor in his eyes. Only in the Yosef and Esther stories, though, does the new position enable a salvation and is there a sub-theme relating to the hiding of identity. In addition, many of the specific details of the rise to power, such as the giving of the signet ring and parading through the streets, are found only in Bereshit and Megillat Esther.
ContrastsDespite the many similarities above, there are some major points of contrast between the narratives:
- Individual versus national – While the Book of Esther speaks of a nation in exile, the Yosef stories focus on just one individual in a foreign land.
- National persecution versus family strife – While the story of Esther revolves around a threat to the survival of the Jewish nation by an antagonistic foreign ruler,12 there is no such threat of persecution in the Yosef saga.13 In contrast, the Yosef narratives focus on the division and reunification of a family, a theme which is absent from the Esther story.
It is perhaps the exilic setting that is the most central aspect in accounting for the similarities between the stories:
- Paradigm of exile – The Yosef story, being the first story of exile in Tanakh, can be seen as a paradigm for future similar stories. Yosef's odyssey symbolizes what will later happen to the entire nation, and thus it might be expected that later such stories will recall it.
- Success in exile – The two stories suggest that, to be successful in exile, one must at times aid the foreign ruler and act as an ally, while at other times stand firm for one's particular beliefs. It might be necessary to make use of beauty, charm, wisdom, or even subterfuge, to position oneself in a place of power, for only from there can one sway the ruler to aid one's family or nation.
- Hashem's providence – In exile, God's providence is not as evident as it is in the Land of Israel, yet His hand still guides events. This is explicit in the Yosef narratives where Yosef tells his brothers, "אַל יִחַר בְּעֵינֵיכֶם כִּי מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי לְמִחְיָה שְׁלָחַנִי אֱלֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם". Megillat Esther, which makes no mention of Hashem at all, might allude to the stories of Yosef to teach this very lesson. Just as in the first story of exile, where God seemed absent, but was nonetheless pulling all the strings, the same is true in this later exile.
- Instability – Both stories highlight the uncertainty of life under foreign rule. Yosef's life in Egypt is a roller coaster of ups and downs. He rises to power in Potiphar's house only to be sent to prison, but then is freed and rises to second in command. In the Esther story too, a fickle king seems to act on whim, changing his mind repeatedly. Though the Esther story seems to end positively, the enslavement that follows Yosef's rise to power reminds the reader that, despite Mordechai's success, the Jews are not secure in Persia either.